Puss 'n' Boots

Crash Test Dummies

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Puss 'n' Boots Review

by James Christopher Monger

Brad Roberts, the booming voice of Canadian/New York City oddities the Crash Test Dummies, has no interest in following a straight line. After 1994's phenomenally successful God Shuffled His Feet, the band was dropped by BMG for failing to connect with audiences on subsequent records that explored funk, rap, and electronica. This aversion to pigeonholing has won them a devout cult following while alienating those who preferred the quirky folk-rock stylings of their first two releases. Both camps should be pleased with Puss 'n' Boots, a 13-song collection of provocative -- and sometimes sleazy -- blue-eyed soul that proves that there's a fine line between Gordon Lightfoot and Isaac Hayes. Beginning with the breakup lament "It's a Shame," Roberts utilizes his throaty croon over a mostly acoustic slow jam, explaining to a soon to be jilted lover that "When it ends/We won't be friends/You'll hate me and you'll miss me when I'm gone." The slick, sexy "I'm the Man (That You Are Not)" dances around Tina Maddigan's sultry backing vocals and contains what could be the debut of Mellotron in an R&B song. While criminally underused keyboardist and vocalist Ellen Reid contributes the occasional harmony on rockers like "Triple Master Blaster" and "Stupid Same," this is essentially another Roberts solo record -- the arrangements lack the diversity of earlier, more group-oriented records. The smoky rhythms and wah-wah guitar that permeate Puss 'n' Boots reflect Roberts' willingness to experience a place -- he currently resides in Harlem -- and to covet and use those experiences in his writing. However, it's the simple, sparse, and honest "It'll Never Leave You Alone," a winking look at the pros and cons of chemical indulgence, that leaves the listener with the clearest window into this shape-shifting jester's soul.

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